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    While India Inc has become more inclusive, the pandemic makes Disability more challenging now

    Synopsis

    There is little doubt that India Inc has become more conscious and proactive in hiring PWDs - thanks to the mandatory disclosures in annual reports and the Accessible India campaign.

    Agencies
    The pandemic has been a huge setback for the employment prospects of differently-abled people.
    As the UN calls for greater inclusion ahead of the World Disability Day on December 3, the day has higher symbolic relevance this year due to the economic stress brought about by the pandemic. The task of businesses in India is fairly cut out on this front - provide more jobs to the differently-abled and make the workplaces more inclusive. However, it is more difficult today than ever before.

    There is little doubt that India Inc has become more conscious and proactive in hiring PWDs - thanks to the mandatory disclosures in annual reports and the Accessible India campaign. According to the annual report disclosures of the Nifty-50 companies analysed by the ET Intelligence Group, 43 of the leading companies of India Inc together reported of employing 11,848 number of differently-abled people for the financial year 2019-20. This is 28% higher than the number of people with disabilities (PWDs) they employed in FY14-15. It is also encouraging that the count of companies disclosing the number of PWDs employed by them rose from 35 to 43 in these five years.

    Nevertheless, the proportion of PWDs in the overall count of permanent staff employed by these industry-leading companies has remained the same at 0.4% over the past five years. The need to employ the PWDs is far too huge against the opportunities being provided. PWDs constitute around 2.2% of the Indian population. In contrast, their representation in the country's formal labour force remains negligible.

    Among the Nifty companies, the country's biggest lender State Bank of India employs the largest number of differently-abled people through its vast banking network. In order to comply with the government of India's directives on reservation policy for PWDs that seeks companies to reserve 3% of their jobs for PWDs, SBI's PWD proportion now constitutes 1.8% of its total head count.


    ET-Prime

    To be sure, public sector companies traditionally have been among the top recruiters of PWDs in India. Four of the top 10 such recruiters in FY20 are PSUs with IOCL, NTPC and ONGC being the other public sector recruiters besides SBI. The PWDs recruited by NTPC constitute 2.6% of its staff - the highest among all its peers. Incidentally, five years ago, eight of the top ten such Nifty recruiters were PSUs - indicating the growth of private sector employers in the disability space over these years.

    E-commerce, retail and hospitality have emerged to be leading emerging industries in India providing blue-collar jobs to these opportunity-deprived people. Companies like Amazon, Flipkart and Lemon Tree chain of hotels have made a conscious attempt to create jobs for them. However, it is not an easy task in more technical and skilled environments.

    "Despite the government mandate of reserving jobs for the PWDs, it has not been easy for companies to comply with it" informs Archana Bhambal, Area Director for North India for Sight Savers India, an NGO working in the field of disability and inclusion. "This is due to the lack of educated and skilled PWDs - especially in non-metro regions", she told ET.

    Besides recruiting, companies have been engaging with PWDs through their CSR outreach efforts of providing them education and vocational training. However, success on that front has been limited as the implementing agencies don't always train the PWDs in line with the industry requirement. "We are talking to corporates and trying to understand their requirements and structure the training accordingly", Bhambal said.

    Even as the prospects were gradually improving, Covid-19 has applied brakes to that process. The pandemic has been a huge setback for the employment prospects of differently-abled people. Except for the ecommerce giants, most businesses have been functioning below capacity and the PWDs have been among the first to face the job cuts.

    "Before Covid, the companies were hiring PWDs on the grounds of improving their workplace diversity. However, the lack of education and communication skills, especially in case of speech & hearing impaired always posed a challenge in their recruitment", said Shabina Choudhary, special educator and consultant working in the field of disability. Choudhary's interest in the field was born out of the necessity of finding educational and employment opportunities for her four brothers who are hearing-impaired.

    "After the pandemic, companies are not as willing to hire them as they did earlier", Choudhary informed ET. "PWDs are struggling to get even blue-collared jobs as businesses look at them as a liability in the current tough times".

    Choudhary's experience with finding employment opportunities for PWDs that she has trained makes her believe that the current grim situation is unlikely to improve any time soon. "There are no vacancies right now and unlikely to come up until mid-2021" she said. "In the last 2-3 months, e-commerce packing and delivery jobs came due to the festive season, but there are no long term sustainable opportunities coming up". Meanwhile the PWDs go back to being dependent on their guardians, seek help from NGOs and take up online training to upgrade themselves.
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